Photos of Farming and Rural Life from 19th Century to Present On-Line

Cooperstown, the lake-side, rural town in upstate New York (Otsego County) is the home, not only of the renowned Baseball Hall of Fame, but also the Farmers Museum, which first opened its doors to the public in 1944 on land which has been part of a working farm since 1813 when it was owned by James Fenimore Cooper.  When it opened in 1944, the Farmers Museum had 5,000 tools and objects (including important collections of the Otsego County Historical Society; the Wyckoff family, one of Brooklyn’s oldest farming families; and William B. Sprague, founder of the Early American Industries Association).

Today the Farmer Museum’s collections number more than 23,000 artifacts.  In addition, the site of the Farmers Museum now includes. not only the barn, creamery and herdsman’s cottage (constructed of local stone in 1918 for the Clark family’s prized herd of cattle then maintained on the property), but also a 19th-century Historic Village comprised of buildings gathered from rural communities around New York State.  Painstakingly relocated and restored, piece by piece, the buildings now number over 20.  They provide a tangible recreation of commercial and domestic practices common to rural life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Restored commercial buildings include a blacksmith shop, pharmacy, doctor’s office, tavern, general store and law office;  Rural domestic life is reflected in the recreated farm houses, barns, smokehouse, kitchen and woodshed, corncrib, and carriage shed.  A church dating from 1795, which first served a congregation in East Durham (Greene County) and then was moved to serve the Cornwallville (Greene County) Methodist Episcopal congregation, has found its ultimate home at one end of the recreated village green at the Farmers Museum.  The church building, pews, pulpit, two altar chairs and a storage cabinet have all been carefully restored.

The Farmers Museum has made a tremendous effort to share its resources with a wider audience.  It offers a Distance Learning program which provides “real-time sessions between schools and educators at the Farmers Museum, who use objects, images, engaging activities and hands-on projects to create a ‘virtual trip’ to the museum.”  A 20 minute preview session for teachers is offered by the museum.

And in 2010, the Farmers Museum initiated PLOWLINE: Images of Rural New York, with the goal to create in one comprehensive photography collection “change over time in agricultural practice and rural life in New York State.”  Available for viewing on-line, this outstanding photography collection now numbers nearly 1400 images of  farming and rural life over the past 100+ years.  The on-line images include the photographs of Dante Tranquille, who was a photographer at the Observer-Dispatch newspaper in Utica, New York from 1944 to 1972, collections of county and town historical societies and the New York State Historical Association, Cornell University’s Department of Dairy Industry, and two farm families (the Garretson and Dezemo families).

On a recent visit to the Farmers Museum, the hops were thriving (as depicted in the accompanying photo) and reminded this visitor of the growing resurgence of hops as an agricultural crop in upstate New York, with the increasing demand from Farm Breweries.  In July 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to support and strengthen New York’s craft breweries. Under the new law, in order to receive a Farm Brewery license in New York State, the beer must be made primarily from locally grown farm products. Until the end of 2018, at least 20% of the hops and 20% of all other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State.  From January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2023, no less than 60% of the hops and 60% of all other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State.  After January 1, 2024, no less than 90% of the hops and 90% of all other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State.  The legislation was modeled after the 1976 “Farm Winery Act,” which spurred the growth of wine production in this state, including the creation of 261 farm wineries and tripling the number of wineries.

In Hamilton (Madison County), NY (the home of Colgate University), not far from Cooperstown, the Good Nature Farm Brewery and Tap Room takes pride in its “handcrafted natural ales brewed with local ingredients.”  Good Nature Farm Brewery is now one of 25 licensed New York Farm Breweries according to the Facebook page of the Northeast Hops Alliance.

New York’s rich agricultural past depicted at the Farmers Museum is showing signs of renewal in this cultivation of hops once again across upstate.  The on-line Plowline: Images of Rural New York includes two wonderful photos by Charles Zabriskie (1848-1914) of a 19th century hops harvest and this second memory of times past harvesting hops.  Take the moment to click on these two preceding links and enjoy the fruits of the Farmers Museum’s preservation on-line of a remarkable photography collection that is ever-growing.

Farmers Museum, 5775 State Highway 80 (one mile north of the village on west side of Otsego Lake), Cooperstown, NY
Hours: April 1 – May 11, Open Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m (limited buildings open);
May 12 – October 13 (Columbus Day), Open Daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m;
October 14 – October 31, Open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m (Limited buildings open);
November 1 – March 31, Closed for winter except for special programs and events.

Frank W. Barrie (8/5/14)


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